Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 3, Chapter 3 (annotations forthcoming)

The Bourbonian-chinned, dark, sleek-haired, ageless concierge,
dubbed by Van in his blazer days “Alphonse Cinq,” believed
he had just seen Mlle Veen in the Récamier room where Vivian
Vale’s golden veils were on show. With a flick of coattail and a
459.05 swing-gate click, Alphonse dashed out of his lodge and went
to see. Van’s eye over his umbrella crook traveled around a
carousel of Sapsucker paperbacks (with that wee striped wood-
pecker on every spine): The Gitanilla, Salzman, Salzman, Salzman,
Invitation to a Climax, Squirt, The Go-go Gang, The
459.10 Threshold of Pain, The Chimes of Chose, The Gitanilla—here
a Wall Street, very “patrician” colleague of Demon’s, old
Kithar K.L. Sween, who wrote verse, and the still older real-
estate magnate Milton Eliot, went by without recognizing grate-
ful Van, despite his being betrayed by several mirrors.
459.15 The concierge returned shaking his head. Out of the goodness
of his heart Van gave him a Goal guinea and said he’d call again
at one-thirty. He walked through the lobby (where the author
of Agonic Lines and Mr. Eliot, affalés, with a great amount of
jacket over their shoulders, dans des fauteuils, were comparing
459.20 cigars) and, leaving the hotel by a side exit, crossed the rue
des Jeunes Martyres for a drink at Ovenman’s.

[ 459 ]


Upon entering, he stopped for a moment to surrender his
coat; but he kept his black fedora and stick-slim umbrella as he
had seen his father do in that sort of bawdy, albeit smart, place
which decent women did not frequent—at least, unescorted. He
460.05 headed for the bar, and as he was in the act of wiping the lenses
of his black-framed spectacles, made out, through the optical
mist (Space’s recent revenge!), the girl whose silhouette he
recalled having seen now and then (much more distinctly!) ever
since his pubescence, passing alone, drinking alone, always
460.10 alone, like Blok’s Incognita. It was a queer feeling—as of some-
thing replayed by mistake, part of a sentence misplaced on the
proof sheet, a scene run prematurely, a repeated blemish, a
wrong turn of time. He hastened to reequip his ears with the
thick black bows of his glasses and went up to her in silence.
460.15 For a minute he stood behind her, sideways to remembrance
and reader (as she, too, was in regard to us and the bar), the
crook of his silk-swathed cane lifted in profile almost up to
his mouth. There she was, against the aureate backcloth of a
sakarama screen next to the bar, toward which she was sliding,
460.20 still upright, about to be seated, having already placed one white-
gloved hand on the counter. She wore a high-necked, long-
sleeved romantic black dress with an ample skirt, fitted bodice
and ruffy collar, from the black soft corolla of which her long
neck gracefully rose. With a rake’s morose gaze we follow the
460.25 pure proud line of that throat, of that tilted chin. The glossy
red lips are parted, avid and fey, offering a side gleam of large
upper teeth. We know, we love that high cheekbone (with an
atom of powder puff sticking to the hot pink skin), and the
forward upsweep of black lashes and the painted feline eye—
460.30 all this in profile, we softly repeat. From under the wavy wide
brim of her floppy hat of black faille, with a great black bow
surmounting it, a spiral of intentionally disarranged, expertly
curled bright copper descends her flaming cheek, and the light
of the bar’s “gem bulbs” plays on her bouffant front hair, which,

[ 460 ]

as seen laterally, convexes from beneath the extravagant brim
of the picture hat right down to her long thin eyebrow. Her
Irish profile sweetened by a touch of Russian softness, which
adds a look of mysterious expectancy and wistful surprise to her
461.05 beauty, must be seen, I hope, by the friends and admirers of
my memories, as a natural masterpiece incomparably finer and
younger than the portrait of the similarily postured lousy jade
with her Parisian gueule de guenon on the vile poster painted by
that wreck of an artist for Ovenman.
461.10 “Hullo there, Ed,” said Van to the barman, and she turned
at the sound of his dear rasping voice.
“I didn’t expect you to wear glasses. You almost got le paquet,
which I was preparing for the man supposedly ‘goggling’ my
hat. Darling Van! Dushka moy!
461.15 “Your hat,” he said, “is positively lautrémontesque—I mean,
lautrecaquesque—no, I can’t form the adjective.”
Ed Barton served Lucette what she called a Chambéryzette.
“Gin and bitter for me.”
“I’m so happy and sad,” she murmured in Russian. “Moyo
461.20 grustnoe schastie! How long will you be in old Lute?”
Van answered he was leaving next day for England, and
then on June 3 (this was May 31) would be taking the Admiral
Tobakoff back to the States. She would sail with him, she cried,
it was a marvelous idea, she didn’t mind whither to drift, really,
461.25 West, East, Toulouse, Los Teques. He pointed out that it was far
too late to obtain a cabin (on that not very grand ship so much
shorter than Queen Guinevere), and changed the subject.
“The last time I saw you,” said Van, “was two years ago, at
a railway station. You had just left Villa Armina and I had just
461.30 arrived. You wore a flowery dress which got mixed with the
flowers you carried because you moved so fast—jumping out
of a green calèche and up into the Ausonian Express that had
brought me to Nice.”
Très expressioniste. I did not see you or I would have

[ 461 ]

stopped to tell you what I had just learned. Imagine, mother
knew everything—your garrulous dad told her everything
about Ada and you!”
“But not about you and her.”
462.05 Lucette asked him not to mention that sickening, maddening
girl. She was furious with Ada and jealous by proxy. Her
Andrey, or rather his sister on his behalf, he was too stupid
even for that, collected progressive philistine Art, bootblack
blotches and excremental smears on canvas, imitations of an
462.10 imbecile’s doodles, primitive idols, aboriginal masks, objets
trouvés, or rather troués, the polished log with its polished hole
à la Heinrich Heideland. His bride found the ranch yard
adorned with a sculpture, if that’s the right word, by old
Heinrich himself and his four hefty assistants, a huge hideous
462.15 lump of bourgeois mahogany, ten feet high, entitled “Maternity,”
the mother (in reverse) of all the plaster gnomes and pig-iron
toadstools planted by former Vinelanders in front of their
dachas in Lyaska.
The barman stood wiping a glass in endless slow motion as he
462.20 listened to Lucette’s denunciation with the limp smile of utter
“And yet (odnako),” said Van in Russian, “you enjoyed
your stay there, in 1896, so Marina told me.”
“I did not (nichego podobnago)! I left Agavia minus my
462.25 luggage in the middle of the night, with sobbing Brigitte. I’ve
never seen such a household. Ada had turned into a dumb
brune. The table talk was limited to the three C’s—cactuses,
cattle, and cooking, with Dorothy adding her comments on
cubist mysticism. He’s one of those Russians who shlyopayut
462.30 (slap) to the toilet barefoot, shave in their underwear, wear gar-
ters, consider hitching up one’s pants indecent, but when fishing
out coins hold their right trouser pocket with the left hand
or vice versa, which is not only indecent but vulgar. Demon
is, perhaps, disappointed they don’t have children, but really he

[ 462 ]

‘engripped’ the man after the first flush of father-in-law-hood.
Dorothy is a prissy and pious monster who comes to stay for
months, orders the meals, and has a private collection of keys to
the servants’ rooms—which our dumb brunette should have
463.05 known—and other little keys to open people’s hearts—she has
tried, by the way, to make a practicing Orthodox not only of
every American Negro she can catch, but of our sufficiently
pravoslavnaya mother—though she only succeeded in making
the Trimurti stocks go up. One beautiful, nostalgic night—”
463.10 Po-russki,” said Van, noticing that an English couple had
ordered drinks and settled down to some quiet auditing.
Kak-to noch’yu (one night), when Andrey was away hav-
ing his tonsils removed or something, dear watchful Dorochka
went to investigate a suspicious noise in my maid’s room and
463.15 found poor Brigitte fallen asleep in the rocker and Ada and me
tryahnuvshih starinoy (reshaking old times) on the bed. That’s
when I told Dora I would not stand her attitude, and immedi-
ately left for Monarch Bay.”
“Some people are certainly odd,” said Van. “If you’ve
463.20 finished that sticky stuff let’s go back to your hotel and get some
She wanted fish, he stuck to cold cuts and salad.
“You know whom I ran into this morning? Good old Greg
Erminin. It was he who told me you were around. His wife
463.25 est un peu snob, what?”
“Everybody is un peu snob,” said Lucette. “Your Cordula,
who is also around, cannot forgive Shura Tobak, the violinist,
for being her husband’s neighbor in the telephone book. Im-
mediately after lunch, we’ll go to my room, a numb twenty-five,
463.30 my age. I have a fabulous Japanese divan and lots of orchids
just supplied by one of my beaux. Ach, Bozhe moy—it has just
occurred to me—I shall have to look into this—maybe they are
meant for Brigitte, who is marrying after tomorrow, at three-
thirty, a head waiter at the Alphonse Trois, in Auteuil. Anyway

[ 463 ]

they are greenish, with orange and purple blotches, some kind
of delicate Oncidium, ‘cypress frogs,’ one of those silly com-
mercial names. I’ll stretch out upon the divan like a martyr,
464.05 “Are you still half-a-martyr—I mean half-a-virgin?” inquired
“A quarter,” answered Lucette. “Oh, try me, Van! My divan
is black with yellow cushions.”
“You can sit for a minute in my lap.”
464.10 “No—unless we undress and you ganch me.”
“My dear, as I’ve often reminded you, you belong to a
princely family but you talk like the loosest Lucinda imaginable.
Is it a fad in your set, Lucette?”
“I have no set, I’m a loner. Once in a while, I go out with two
464.15 diplomats, a Greek and an Englishman, who are allowed to paw
me and play with each other. A corny society painter is work-
ing on my portrait and he and his wife caress me when I’m in
the mood. Your friend Dick Cheshire sends me presents and
racing tips. It’s a dull life, Van.
464.20 “I enjoy—oh, loads of things,” she continued in a melancholy,
musing tone of voice, as she poked with a fork at her blue
trout which, to judge by its contorted shape and bulging eyes,
had boiled alive, convulsed by awful agonies. “I love Flemish
and Dutch oils, flowers, food, Flaubert, Shakespeare, shopping,
464.25 sheeing, swimming, the kisses of beauties and beasts—but some-
how all of it, this sauce and all the riches of Holland, form only
a kind of tonen’kiy-tonen’kiy (thin little) layer, under which
there is absolutely nothing, except, of course, your image,
and that only adds depth and a trout’s agonies to the emptiness.
464.30 I’m like Dolores—when she says she’s ‘only a picture painted
on air.’”
“Never could finish that novel—much too pretentious.”
“Pretentious but true. It’s exactly my sense of existing—a
fragment, a wisp of color. Come and travel with me to some

[ 464 ]

distant place, where there are frescoes and fountains, why can’t
we travel to some distant place with ancient fountains? By ship?
By sleeping car?”
“It’s safer and faster by plane,” said Van. “And for Log’s
465.05 sake, speak Russian.”
Mr. Sween, lunching with a young fellow who sported a
bullfighter’s sideburns and other charms, bowed gravely in the
direction of their table; then a naval officer in the azure uniform
of the Gulfstream Guards passed by in the wake of a dark,
465.10 ivory-pale lady and said: “Hullo Lucette, hullo, Van.”
“Hullo, Alph,” said Van, whilst Lucette acknowledged the
greeting with an absent smile: over her propped-up entwined
hands she was following with mocking eyes the receding lady.
Van cleared his throat as he gloomily glanced at his half-sister.
465.15 “Must be at least thirty-five,” murmured Lucette, “yet still
hopes to become his queen.”
(His father, Alphonse the First of Portugal, a puppet poten-
tate manipulated by Uncle Victor, had recently abdicated upon
Gamaliel’s suggestion in favor of a republican regime, but
465.20 Lucette spoke of fragile beauty, not fickle politics.)
“That was Lenore Colline. What’s the matter, Van?”
“Cats don’t stare at stars, it’s not done. The resemblance is
much less close than it used to be—though, of course, I’ve not
kept up with counterpart changes. A propos, how’s the career
465.25 been progressing?”
“If you mean Ada’s career, I hope it’s also a flop, the same as
her marriage. So my getting you will be all Demon gains. I
don’t go often to movies, and I refused to speak to Dora and her
when we met at the funeral and haven’t the remotest idea of
465.30 what her stage or screen exploits may have been lately.”
“Did that woman tell her brother about your innocent
“Of course not! She drozhit (trembles) over his bliss. But
I’m sure it was she who forced Ada to write me that I ‘must

[ 465 ]

never try again to wreck a successful marriage’—and this I
forgive Daryushka, a born blackmailer, but not Adochka. I
don’t care for your cabochon. I mean it’s all right on your dear
hairy hand, but Papa wore one like that on his hateful pink paw.
466.05 He belonged to the silent-explorer type. Once he took me to a
girls’ hockey match and I had to warn him I’d yell for help if
he didn’t call off the search.”
Das auch noch,” sighed Van, and pocketed the heavy dark-
sapphire ring. He would have put it into the ashtray had it not
466.10 been Marina’s last present.
“Look, Van,” she said (finishing her fourth flute). “Why
not risk it? Everything is quite simple. You marry me. You get
my Ardis. We live there, you write there. I keep melting into
the back ground, never bothering you. We invite Ada—alone,
466.15 of course—to stay for a while on her estate, for I had always
expected mother to leave Ardis to her. While she’s there, I go
to Aspen or Gstaad, or Schittau, and you live with her in solid
crystal with snow falling as if forever all around pendant que je
shee in Aspenis. Then I come back like a shot, but she can stay
466.20 on, she’s welcome, I’ll hang around in case you two want me.
And then she goes back to her husband for a couple of dreary
months, see?”
“Yes, magnificent plan,” said Van. “The only trouble is:
she will never come. It’s now three o’clock, I have to see a man
466.25 who is to renovate Villa Armina which I inherited and which
will house one of my harems. Slapping a person’s wrist that way
is not your prettiest mannerism on the Irish side. I shall now
escort you to your apartment. You are plainly in need of some
466.30 “I have an important, important telephone call to make, but
I don’t want you to listen,” said Lucette searching for the key
in her little black handbag.
They entered the hall of her suite. There, firmly resolved to
leave in a moment, he removed his glasses and pressed his mouth

[ 466 ]

to her mouth, and she tasted exactly as Ada at Ardis, in the
early afternoon, sweet saliva, salty epithelium, cherries, coffee.
Had he not sported so well and so recently, he might not have
withstood the temptation, the impardonable thrill. She plucked
467.05 at his sleeve as he started to back out of the hallway.
“Let us kiss again, let us kiss again!” Lucette kept repeating,
childishly, lispingly, barely moving her parted lips, in a fussy
incoherent daze, doing her best to prevent him from thinking
it over, from saying no.
467.10 He said that would do.
“Oh but why? Oh please!”
He brushed away her cold trembling fingers.
“Why Van? Why, why, why?”
“You know perfectly well why. I love her, not you, and I
467.15 simply refuse to complicate matters by entering into yet another
incestuous relationship.”
“That’s rich,” said Lucette, “you’ve gone far enough with me
on several occasions, even when I was a kid; your refusing to
go further is a mere quibble on your part; and besides, besides
467.20 you’ve been unfaithful to her with a thousand girls, you dirty
“You shan’t talk to me in that tone,” said Van, meanly
turning her poor words into a pretext for marching away.
“I apollo, I love you,” she whispered frantically, trying to
467.25 cry after him in a whisper because the corridor was all door and
ears, but he walked on, waving both arms in the air without
looking back, quite forgivingly, though, and was gone.

[ 467 ]

(back to Part Three, Chapter 2)
(forward to Part Three, Chapter 4)

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